If it’s possible for you to imagine it, Shah Rukh Khan’s legions of German fans are even more hardcore fanatical when it comes to their hero than his fans are in India. So much is he revered in cities as far apart as Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich that when Germans think of Bollywood, they mostly think SRK.
In a recent interview in the German press, it was suggested that his charisma for the Germans was built around his politeness, eloquence, humour and self-irony. He is often compared to Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis and like them is hunted by fans and press all over the world; he was at the Berlin Film Festival in February for Om Shanti Om and his fans almost caused a riot when they caught sight of him. He was asked if this level of public acclaim bothered him? “No,” he replied, “It is a small price to pay. Within my own four walls, there is always enough space for my private life – and it gives me a kick to hear my name called and for people to love me and to ask for my autograph. I guess it’s what being a star means — I’d love to be able to give every fan an autograph. I find it strange when stars hide behind sunglasses and bemoan the publicity. After all, they chose this life. Whenever it starts to get on my nerves, I think of what it would be like if I walked the streets and nobody recognised me. I find this frightening!”
SRK believes the worldwide success of Bollywood films is that they inhabit a fantasy world. Indians, he says, celebrate life. They laugh and cry and grumble just like everyone else — but they do it in a big way. In Om Shanti Om, he argues, Indians are looking at themselves and saying yes, we are chaotic, mad and overemotional — but we’re proud of it! You don’t need to understand Bollywood films, you just need to feel them and good stories work in any language or culture, he explains.
He was asked whether he wanted a Hollywood career but replied, “I sometimes wonder what it would be like to work with people like Robert de Niro, Al Pacino or Meryl Streep but the truth is I’m over forty, rather small and have only limited talent. Also, my English is weak and I don’t really do kung fu or dance the salsa — so I think it’s unlikely that Steven Spielberg is waiting at the airport for me. I’d like to play the part of a superhero though — though someone else would need to do all the stunts — I’d just have my face swinging in and out of the camera.”
You don’t need to wear your underpants over your trousers to be a superhero, however, and most of SRK’s German fans already think of him in this light — but has he been influenced by German stories in exchange, he was asked. “Yes, I had the stories of the Brothers Grimm read to me as a child and of course it influenced my thinking. When there’s a fantasy scene in one of my movies involving a schloss or castle, that’s the influence of German literature upon me. The cultures of east and west are constantly interacting and reinventing themselves.”
Politeness, Humour, Eloquence and Self-irony — that’s a hero worth aspiring to.